Pujols May Save the Cardinals Again

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Albert Pujols did the Cardinals a huge favor by departing for Anaheim and the Angels. Not only did he save them from paying a player who’s listed at age 32 (but might be older) $220 million for 10 years, but he gave them a substantial amount of money to use in other areas. Because they won the World Series last year, the afterglow gave them a pass for any perceived negativity.

With Pujols gone and Lance Berkman already onboard from a mid-season 2011 contract extension, they signed Carlos Beltran at $26 million for two years. He’s been an MVP candidate for them.

This current Cardinals team isn’t that good; their manager Mike Matheny has made some rudimentary strategic mistakes—as would be expected from someone who’d never managed before anywhere; they have holes in the starting rotation due to injuries to Jaime Garcia and Chris Carpenter. But they’re only 2 ½ games out of first place in a mediocre division and parity-laden National League and they have the farm system to make big deals. With the money available from not having to pay Pujols along with the expiring contracts of Carpenter, Berkman, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, they can pursue a Zack Greinke and potentially bolster the bullpen by expanding a Greinke trade to include Francisco Rodriguez. Greinke wouldn’t have to be a rental either; the freed up money could be used to sign him long-term.

The Cardinals without Tony LaRussa are being run more like a business with Matheny a functionary and not having the power to win turf wars as LaRussa did. Carpenter is out for the season with surgery to repair nerve damage in his shoulder. In the past it would’ve been guaranteed that LaRussa would bully his way into getting Carpenter another contract in spite of his age (38 next April) and frequent injuries. Now that’s not the case. The Cardinals let Pujols leave making any player disposable if his demands are extreme.

Thanks to Pujols, the Cardinals can be big buyers at the deadline and it could benefit them greatly for the rest of 2012 and beyond.

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Roy Oswalt Is Not a Relief Pitcher

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There’s been speculation that the Cardinals are interested in Roy Oswalt and Oswalt would love to pitch for the Cardinals. With the recent news that Oswalt would be willing to take a short-term deal, the number of teams seriously pursuing him increased exponentially; but Oswalt is still the Mississippi guy who’d prefer to steer clear of New York or Boston if he has a choice. Presumably, he would’ve liked to play in Texas, but the Rangers don’t have room for him and the Astros don’t need him as they rebuild.

The Cardinals would be a fine spot for him, but the surprising story is that the Cardinals would like Oswalt to consider a move to the bullpen with the possibility of moving into the starting rotation if he’s needed.

This will not work.

There are pitchers who can start and relieve and make the transition seamlessly. Derek Lowe could do it; Phil Hughes could do it; John Smoltz could do it. But the circumstances were vastly different for those pitchers and others who’ve shuttled from one role to the other.

Oswalt has been a starter his entire professional career; has had back trouble; and plainly and simply would not know how to relieve in preparation or practice.

It’s a bad idea if it’s a legitimate thought.

I don’t think they’re serious about it; nor do I believe that Oswalt would do it. Why should he? He’d have other options (including the Yankees and Red Sox) if he needed a job and wouldn’t have to go to the bullpen, so why should he do it for the Cardinals?

My guess is that the Cardinals want Oswalt for the starting rotation and are trying to find a taker for Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook. Westbrook is the more likely pitcher to be moved because he’s more consistent and cheaper.

Westbrook will be paid $8.5 million in 2012 and has an option for 2013 at $8.5 with a mutual option and a $1 million buyout if the Cardinals decline the option; simply put, he’s guaranteed $9.5 million.

Lohse has $11.875 million coming to him in 2012.

If we’re going by ability, Lohse is better; if we’re going by who’s a better pitcher, Westbrook is who you want. Lohse has always been and presumably will always be that pitcher who elicits sighs and lamentations of how good he could be if he ever put it all together. Here’s a newsflash: Lohse is 33-years-old and this is pretty much it. In a good year, he’ll pitch really well and the good years will be the bread of an overstuffed sandwich of 2-3 years where he got blasted, hurt or both.

Westbrook will give 180-200 innings and you know what you’re getting from him—he’s mediocre, but for a back-of-the-rotation starter on a short-term contract teams can (and will) do far worse.

Oswalt may be waiting until the other free agent chips—Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda—fall into place; then he’ll make his decision and it won’t be as a reliever for anyone.

With Oswalt, the Cardinals might sign him under the pretense of using him as a reliever with the pitcher publicly stating such inanities as, “I can make the transition”, blah blah blah; but the truth is that they’ll have Oswalt in the bullpen until they can deal either Westbrook or Lohse and make sure that Adam Wainwright is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery; that won’t happen until late in spring training when injuries make teams desperate for a veteran starter on a short-term contract.

Oswalt will not be a reliever if he signs with the Cardinals. He’ll be a starter.

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